Live Review: Blackberry Smoke at Academy 1, Manchester [02 April 2023]

By John Hayhurst
By April 5, 2023 Live, Reviews

It’s all Smokin’ in Manchester as the Georgia favourites show the North West how Southern Rock should really sound.

Words and Photos – John Hayhurst

Southern Rock is a funny music genre, it’s coloured fruit from a hotch potch of original blues, soul and rocknroll and yet mainly played by white blokes with long hair, beards and hats. Name me 3 Southern Rock bands and I guarantee there is a hat and beard in there somewhere, in fact the average person would probably struggle to name three anyway. Lynyrd Skynyrd with Freebird/Sweet Home Alabama would be the populist call, and yet there have been many others more recent to take their trophy. Most notably for me personally are The Black Crowes from Atlanta Georgia, back in the early 90’s they developed a blues rock sound that had more than a nod to the Allmans, Grateful Dead and other jam bands of the 70’s. And it’s back to that same State in the US which has produced the next hopeful mainstay of the genre – Blackberry Smoke. This tour has been waiting nearly 3 years due to Covid but we are feeling a good one comin’ on tonight.They are on suprisingly early at 8:30pm and that catches a few stragglers from the pub out. The reason being is the curfew is 10:30pm and the boys want to put in a 2 hour shift, so lets motor on with the good tunes.

Charlie Starr is the leader of this band and he gets a rapturous welcome when he walks out on stage, but there is no time for niceties tonight, we barely get a ‘Hello Manchester’ before we are already 4 songs deep into an ever changing setlist on this short tour of the UK (3 dates). They burst straight into ‘All Over The Road’,’Let it Burn’ and then seemlessly into ‘Live it Down’, and then they have the balls to go straight into ‘Good One Comin’ On’. That’s a yeee-haar from me and the rest of the Mancunian honky tonk fans, who start reaching for some imaginary moonshine tonight.

The most Southern looking man in the room is drummer Brit Turner, his timing perfect, as is the hat, beard and lengthy hair. We are lucky to be seeing him at all, as his health has suffered severly with heart attacks and a brain tumour, and of course he gets the biggest cheer from the crowd during the introductions. Their latest album ‘You Hear Georgia’ will get a good airing tonight as they play 7 tracks from it and a good helping from ‘The Whipporwill’ too.

Charlie Starr has this neat little step up and back to the microphone dance, a kind of Steve Marriott strut with a Shadows twist kick on the carpeted floor. It’s not perfect or manufactured, just his way of saying I’m having a good time tonight, and there’s little else that his chief sidekicks do to stop it. Bassman Richard Turner is looking cool in his shades and boots and not a lot to say for himself apart from the occasional nod and slow guitar walk from amp to monitor. Paul Jackson has a big smile and some chunky guitar moves but without any histrionics, and Brandon Still was well named as he stays behind the keys where he produces some of the warmest sounds possible on this cold night.

Tonight is all about good times music – there are no frills with a Blackberry Smoke gig, and their songs tonight range from well over 10 years of great albums, no less than 21 tracks packed in and that’s a good couple of hours’ worth of prime entertainment.

They are not frightened of playing the odd cover or two either, they have been known to throw in a bit of Zeppelin into ‘Sleeping Dogs’ but on this tour they give the nod to Tom Petty with a little ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ and during the encore we get a brief snippet of ‘Mississippi Kid’, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune, which was maybe a nod to the recent passing of Gary Rossington.

The Black Crowes (who I know I keep harping on about here) similarity and evidence is so in your face here, that it’s breathing the same air and chewing your food for you. This is not meant to denigrate them in anyway, I love both bands and to have more of this type of music played live to sold out audiences in the UK is a brilliant testament to the gigging public we have on this island – long may it continue, and here’s to the next 10 years of Blackberry Smoke.

SETLIST: All Over The Road, Let It Burn, Live it Down, Good One Comin’ On, Pretty Little Lie, Payback’s a Bitch, You Hear Georgia, Lucky Seven, Hey Delilah, Sleeping Dogs, Ain’t The Same, Waiting for the Thunder, Lesson in a Bottle, Ain’t Got The Blues, All Rise Again, Run Away From It All, One Horse Town, Up In Smoke, Old Scarecrow.

ENCORE: Flesh and Bone, Ain’t Much Left of Me